By Andy Sharpless
In the last several weeks, Oceana and its allies won five important victories that will help protect biodiversity and increase abundance in our seas:
1. Belize bans offshore oil drilling in country's marine waters, home to the largest barrier reef in the Americas.
Belize made history in late December when it signed into law a moratorium on offshore oil drilling in the entirety of Belizean waters, which contain the second largest barrier reef system in the world (and largest in the Western Hemisphere). This decision was the culmination of more than 10 years of campaigning by Oceana and its allies, and by the tens of thousands of Belizeans committed to stopping drilling in their barrier reef. The Belize Barrier Reef—a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996—is home to nearly 1,400 species and is critical to the livelihood of more than half of Belize's population due to its central role in Belizean tourism and fishing.
2. Chile bans bottom trawling in 98 percent of its seas.
Liesbeth van der Meer, Oceana's leader in Chile, sat next to Chile's Undersecretary of Fisheries, Pablo Berazaluce, as the country announced—in a joint statement with Oceana—that the country would ban bottom trawling in 98 percent of Chile's waters (specifically in its Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ). This decision puts Chile at the forefront of countries stopping this destructive fishing practice, by which large weighted nets are dragged across the ocean floor, clear-cutting and destroying ocean habitat while also netting tons of other life not targeted by fishermen. This win follows several others protecting Chile's ocean habitat. In fact, the country has now made 13 percent of its waters "no take" marine areas (up from less than one percent when Oceana began campaigning on these issues).
3. Canada acts to make the status of its fisheries transparent to its citizens.
Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans released—for the first time—a comprehensive review of the status of fisheries in Canada along with proposed rebuilding plans (and accompanying timetables) for 19 fisheries. While this effort is only a first step, it is a major leap forward in transparency and accountability for Canada's seas.
4. 21 countries and the EU protect endangered cold-water corals throughout the Mediterranean.
Four deep-sea coral species will now be protected in the Mediterranean. The Barcelona Convention, a multi-country regional sea convention, voted in favor of adding four additional coral species—cockscomb cup coral, yellow-tree coral, yellow coral and bamboo coral—to the list (Annex II) of endangered or threatened species in the Mediterranean Sea. This action will protect these animals and also help to ensure the survival of marine life that live and depend on these underwater coral gardens. The members of the Barcelona convention include: Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, the European Community, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Libya, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, Slovenia, Spain, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey.
5. The Philippines appoints a special prosecutor to prosecute illegal commercial fishing in the country's largest marine protected area.
The government of the Philippines named a special prosecutor to pursue cases related to illegal fishing in the Tañon Strait, the largest MPA in the Philippines. Tañon Strait, a 161-kilometer strip dividing the provinces of Cebu and Negros Island, is one of the largest and most productive parts of oceans in the Philippines, accounting for 63 percent of the country's coral species and 14 types of whales and dolphins. Despite its nearly two decades as a protected area, Tañon Strait remained under constant pressure from illegal commercial fishing due to a lack of enforcement. The appointment of a special prosecutor follows several other new enforcement measures for Tañon Strait, including the use of vessel monitoring systems. The new special prosecutor has already received her first case.
These are significant victories, and only a fraction of the more than 200 that Oceana has won since its founding in 2001. In the ever-shifting political situations from Peru to the Philippines to the U.S., this has been our constant: Oceana will continue to campaign and win the victories we need to make our oceans truly biodiverse and abundant.